Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke knows it. Education and training are central to our nation's economic competitiveness. In fact, he recently urged that budget deliberations recognize the benefits of programs that equip workers with needed skills -- even when we must grapple with difficult decisions around balancing state and federal budgets.
But House leadership is taking action that will cut off our nose to spite our face. The House-passed Continuing Resolution, which would fund the government through the remainder of FY 2011, includes drastic cuts to adult, dislocated worker and youth programs under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). These cuts would sharply reduce or eliminate funding for summer jobs for youth, job and training assistance for unemployed and underemployed workers, and support for one-stop career centers.
Chopping job training programs is counterproductive to an effective recovery, especially at a time when the number of unemployed and underemployed is at historically high levels and nearly 14 million people are struggling to find work.
Dislocated workers and other unemployed and underemployed workers benefit from WIA by gaining valuable skills. In fact, during the worst of the economic recession in 2008 and 2009 more than two-thirds of adults and three-quarters of dislocated workers who completed training programs found jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
In a new CLASP report, workforce development policy experts Neil Ridley and Evelyn Ganzglass look specifically at how the WIA Adult program in three states responded to the urgency of the Great Recession. In good economic times, a major barrier to upgrading skills is "opportunity cost" -- or what economists describe as the trade-off between spending time in training and at work. During the recession, however, jobs were scarce and the opportunity cost of education and training was low, making it an ideal time for many unemployed and low-income adults to build skills and earn credentials.
Even though unemployment has declined in recent months, it's still significantly higher than it was before the start of the recession. Further, given the skills/jobs mismatch that many economists have noted, now is the worst possible time to cut investment in workforce development programs.
Many signs point to a long road to pre-recession unemployment rates. Workforce programs are helping by providing opportunities for the unemployed and underemployed to prepare for jobs once the economy fully recovers. They help employers by providing workers with the skills to compete. Cutting jobs and training just doesn't add up, and it's hardly the way to out-compete the rest of the world in a changing global economy that increasingly relies on what a workforce knows and the skills it possesses.
On its face, these facts should move Congress to act on what we know: that training our workers is fundamental to recovery and future competitiveness.